Promoting positive race relations in New Zealand schools: Me Mahi Tātou Publications
The rapidly increasing ethnic diversity and heterogeneity of the New Zealand school population has resulted in the need for schools to actively manage issues of race, culture, and ethnicity. The increasing complexity of educational settings which result can give rise to tensions which, if not addressed, threaten schools’ ability to successfully meet the needs of their communities.
Author(s): Mary Donn and Ruth Schick. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: 1995
New Zealand is a society made up of peoples from a range of distinct cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We have a particular historical and political heritage, a heritage which has shaped the educational system, and its relationships with society. Today, children from a range of backgrounds attend schools in New Zealand . Schools, teachers, and communities are faced with a difficult challenge — how to address cultural diversity, in the school and in the classroom. Differences in cultural values, in parents' and students' expectations of schools, and attitudes about cultural and racial diversity are issues in many schools, although they are not always acknowledged. Even those schools in culturally homogeneous communities face the issues of cultural diversity as society reflects back the effectiveness of the school in preparing students for their lives.
The report is based on these assumptions:
- New Zealand is a complex, multiracial society with a particular historical inheritance;
- our national educational system has a British cultural base, with a particular history of race relations;
- our education system serves communities of varied cultural backgrounds;
- in New Zealand society, experiences and life chances are differentiated by cultural background as well as visible racial distinctions;
- as a society we have a commitment to finding equitable solutions to social problems and to finding ways of working together in communities.
Schooling is one of the fundamental ways that societies ensure their survival, producing and reproducing the social relationships which make up society. Schools do not operate in isolation from society, but they provide an arena for addressing issues with important ramifications in society. National awareness of the issues is evident in the media, and in schools, where teachers and students are daily challenged to find new ways of communicating and learning together.
Some of our attitudes to cultural diversity grow out of fear and prejudice, out of lack of contact with people from different backgrounds, and the need for greater understanding about who we are and what our society might be. These attitudes shape the extent to which schools can provide a welcoming, supportive, and effective learning environment for all students. Because cultural diversity, and the unavoidable fact of racism, directly affects children's emotional, social, and academic experience of school, this is an area which schools have a special responsibility to address.
The topic of race relations is difficult, emotional, and politically volatile. There are no simple formulae: it challenges privilege, all of us are implicated, and the cultural mixes of communities and the strengths and experience of individuals vary. Distinctions between the concepts of race, culture, and ethnicity can be unclear and boundaries between cultural dominance and racism are difficult to draw. Our individual experiences and responsibilities, and the larger aspects of a social structure which we have inherited, are difficult to understand and feel at ease with. As we examine the cultural and racial assumptions that make up our own ways of seeing and acting in the world, we quickly discover our own biases, and the limitations of our knowledge. We confront challenges to authority, and to our levels of commitment to basic principles of justice. This is as true of those who write reports as of those who teach students.
A number of factors have highlighted the issue of race in New Zealand schools. Foremost amongst the contemporary cultural challenges faced by the education system are relations between Mäori and Pakeha New Zealanders, and interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi. The high profile political activism of Mäori and the work of Mäori educators have emphasised the bicultural heritage of New Zealand and the place of Mäori culture in the education system: the relative achievements of Mäori students, and cultural assumptions and content which structure schooling in New Zealand .
New Zealand is home to many other cultural groups. Rapid immigration of peoples from Asian nations in recent years has created a highly visible presence of new groups of cultures within New Zealand . Teachers and students in schools are faced with constructing new relationships. The school system must address the cultural diversity within the Pakeha population, Pacific Islanders' experiences in schools, the experiences of ethnic Indian and Chinese communities, and the experiences of recent political refugees to New Zealand . Attention has recently been drawn to the level of violence which occurs in schools, typically beyond the awareness of staff.1 We know that racist incidents among students often seem to go unseen by adults in the school, and often result in physically violent responses.2 We can see that the racial climate of schools is a very real issue for students. Concerns range from complex questions about providing an emotionally supportive and academically effective environment for students from diverse cultural backgrounds, to finding out ways to deal with out and out acts of verbal and physical racial violence. How can schools create communities which address these issues and prepare children to function successfully in a multiracial, multi-ethnic society?
There is no single definition of what constitutes "positive race relations". In this study we attempted to find out from people working in schools across the country what they feel they are doing which promotes positive race relations. We talked to parents, teachers, principals, students, and board members in twenty-three schools. The schools varied in wealth, ethnic composition, geographic location, and their policies. We asked about policies, strategies developed, and the challenges that arise in trying to support a school community that promotes the emotional, social and academic achievement of students from different cultural backgrounds. In this report we have drawn together the information gathered in the conversations. It is hoped that other schools will reflect on these experiences, ideas, and insights and be encouraged to create positive educational experiences for all children.
The report is in six parts. The first part covers the methodology used in the study and some of the theoretical issues that arise in any discussion of race relations, and more particularly race relations in schools. It considers historical aspects of the education system in New Zealand and how government policies have impacted on the education system, on the relationship between Mäori and Pakeha, and, more recently, on other ethnic groups in this country.
The second part of the report presents an overview of the experiences of the schools that participated in the study. Their experiences and the strategies they have developed are addressed in terms of the following themes: policies and philosophies; school support for staff; getting to know students; what happens in the classroom; community involvement; and the students' views on what happens.
Part three presents portraits of people, programmes, and ways of addressing issues of biculturalism and multiculturalism drawn from some of the participating schools.
Part four presents information on resources, and advice for schools.
Part five presents a summary and concluding remarks.
Part six contains appendices, including a bibliography.
- Hilton-Jones. 1995, personal communication
- Troyna, 1993; Alton-Lee, 1997
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